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A group for survivors. Tell your stories and discuss your plans.

When empathy hurts… (12 posts)

  • Profile picture of rick rick said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

    So you spend your whole life learning to be empathic. Learning to see through another’s eyes. Understanding what makes someone else “tick” is strong positive connection that brings us closer together. Right? Well what if that other person is sick…I mean, really sick. And what if they are sick from what I got. Then what?
    I have a patient, a young otherwise healthy patient who went home on hospice because her cancer could no longer be controlled. Her friend (also a patient) suffers from the same cancer but is doing better right now. However, she was so connected to her friends situation, she couldn’t escape the reality that she will likely be in that same skin some day. The empathy, a usually positive emotion, was too negative and painful.
    I know everyone’s been there at one point or another. How did you escape? DO you detach from a needy friend? Do you suffer and hang in there? Is there some way to make a positive from this situation? I know…this is a tough one.

  • Profile picture of Sharon Dwyer Sharon Dwyer said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    I’m involved in a situation right now – doesn’t involve my cancer – but does relate to your question. A good friend of mine has multiple myeloma and has been doing well since her stem cell transplants 2 years ago. She knows a man who has been battling the same disease for many more years and was also doing well. Recently, she found out he has bone cancer and lung problems and will need some more treatments. My friend is terrified that the same thing will happen to her. My only advice was she should focus on the fact that all her follow-up tests have been positive and because it happened to this man, doesn’t mean it will happen to her. Was there anything else I could have said to make her feel better?

  • Profile picture of Eileen Young Eileen Young said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    I think sometimes you need to detach and take care of yourself, unless you can find someone else to help guide both of you through the current challenge. Cancer is a scary diagnosis, and you’re never sure that it won’t rear its ugly tentacles again, even after 20 years, which is where I am in my survival. Faith can have a very positive influence at how you look at life, especially if you believe in life after death. I lost a sister-in-law last year, and an aunt 2 years ago, and they both went peacefully because they knew they would be free from pain and believed they would be in a better place. I hope my faith is that strong when I’m faced with my final struggles.
    Look for pleasant things. I love bright flowers and the zoo. If I can’t be there live, there are pictures and books. Read something together – there are so many beautiful stories out there, and there is also the Bible and prayer if that works for you. Treasure the time you do have together because once its gone, you can never get it back.

  • Profile picture of Mary Hayes-Sharp Mary Hayes-Sharp said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    Lord in Heaven, this person will likely be in the same skin some day. Doesn’t anybody beat this monster?

  • Profile picture of rick rick said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    Um… YOU!

  • Profile picture of Mary Hayes-Sharp Mary Hayes-Sharp said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    Thanks for the wake up call. You said exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it. I went a little crazy there about things over which only a higher power has contol. Sorry.

  • Profile picture of rick rick said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    To me, this is a balancing act. Taking care of your needs while taking care of somebody else’s. And those needs seem diametrically opposite. But there are two journeys going on here. And each is different and never superimposable. Although there are lessons to learn from each other and similar circumstances, each journey unfolds in a unique manner.

    So I think the key to success in this situation is to recognize that there are two separate journeys going on here and not different parts of the same journey. Nobody knows what the future holds for any of us and envisioning ourselves in someone else’s journey does nobody any good. Next is to create some space between the two journeys. Actively resist the tendency to superimpose. In that way you can allow their journey to be theirs and your journey to be yours.

    With enough space between the two journeys, you can still be there for them and their journey. But be careful. It can be treacherous waters sucking you in to where you care not to go. Visit when you are strong. Make time for yourself to recover from the trauma that this situation can cause. Recognize what you can do without setting yourself back and do only that.

    The first time I gave this advice, I asked the other folks around me whether or not it was insensitive. I was told that it seemed right. And from the other posts here on this difficult topic, I think we generally feel the same way. So I thank you all for tackling this really difficult topic. This is one of these unmentionables that really deserves to be discussed.

  • Profile picture of rick rick said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    And this one is from Sue:

    “That’s a tough one. I am the only person I know who has had cancer. I work with people daily in psychological distress and stay right there with them encouraging them.”

  • Profile picture of Mary Hayes-Sharp Mary Hayes-Sharp said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    Rick, your advice is on the mark. I am on my own journey and it is unique. Others cannot go along the very same path, nor can I walk in their exact footprints. I do have problems with boundries. This situation has pointed it out to me as no other has. When someone I love is in jeopardy, I go alittle crazy. I must realize that I am no assistance to anyone, not even myself, when I get too involved. Again, thanks.

  • Profile picture of Bernadette Bernadette said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    This is a very hard one. With my nursing career I have been in many,many situations where sometimes you have to draw the line with re empathy. That may sound cruel but it is realistic. My cancer journey so far has made me finally see that I need to make boundaries for myself. I need to take care of myself. Even though I have a very supportive husband and son,it is me and the treatment by myself. No one knows how frustrating it is for me to have been a person that judges oneself by what I have done in a day,to have days go by where I do only ADL’s and the dishes. So I am in a situation where I can’t “push”through the fatigue and keep on going so I can complete all the things I had planned for that day. I must take care of myself first which is new to me. Everyone always came before me.But was that healthy? No,I continued to burn out.In my desire to “fix”everyone’s problems I was definately compromising my well being.There are alot of people out there who just want to “dump” on someone and don”t want to be fixed.They just need someone to vent to,and they feel better.Sometimes”fixing” is not an option as in the case Dr.B talked about. It took this horrible dx. of cancer to make me realize in helping people we need to always leave a little energy for when crap happens in our life and crap always happens! Visit your friend but take care of yourself.If it means shorter visits or less than you feel is humane you still are not selfish in needing some of that energy I mentioned for yourself.Pray for her when you are at home.Schedule some pleasurable thing for yourself. God did not wear sack cloth when he fasted,so why must you wear sack cloth and be with your friend 24/7. It is healthy to be selfish sometimes in our lives.That does not make us evil,uncaring people,it just makes us normal caretakers of our self.Right now I can’t take on problems of others because I do not have the energy or strength. And for the first time in my life I do not feel like I am an evil person for being “selfish”!!

  • Profile picture of Debbie Josuweit Debbie Josuweit said 6 years, 6 months ago:

    Bernadette, I know where you are coming from. I have always put my family first for 30 years until that day I was told I had cancer. It was then I realized it was time for me. So, every day I would take 30 minutes for myself and lay on my bed with a musical CD playing and totally concentrated on me with prayer and meditation. After that 30 minutes I was a new women. My spouse and boys where my best support and understood that was my time and never interupted. If only we could learn to take that time before a diagnose just maybe we could have adverted it! Wishing you many times of you time. Now I am upto 32 years of caring for my family and myself. Debbie

  • Profile picture of Kayla Dolan Kayla Dolan said 6 years, 3 months ago:

    Every night I sign on and read at least one old post that i may have missed before i registered, and tonight when i read this i had goosebumps and couldnt help but think and think for almost an hour before I started typing. My journey started roughly 4 months ago and being 23 years old at the time none of my friends or anyone close to me has traveled this journey before. So thinking about this post i tried relating it to other topics that didn’t involve cancer, topics that im more familiar with, topics that i can without a doubt give a concrete answer and say “this is what i would do,” unfortunately, nothing came to mind. The only thing i could think of was the feeling that’s inside me since this journey started, and what I may do if I was put into this situation. I have this “I’m going to conquer the world and no one, no disease, nothing will stop me,” granted i know this is a bit unobtainable, i won’t really be able to conquer the world; however, i can conquer my own fears. I can make my friends happy and I feel like if i distanced myself because i wasn’t sure i could handle the task of keeping the journeys seperate and couldnt handle the suffering I would be missing out. Missing out on the last moments with a great friend. I don’t want to miss out on a single second because of cancer. I would take my “I can conqeur this” attitude and sit bedside with my friend, and enjoy every last minute.